Counterfeiting continues to grow. Why? One reason is that criminal enterprises increasingly view counterfeiting as a low-risk, high-reward revenue stream. The involvement of organised crime has raised the level of sophistication in counterfeiting, enabling counterfeiters to exploit more unsuspecting consumers into buying their illicit products online.
Counterfeiters often sell their goods to unsuspecting consumers under the guise of legitimate businesses and have discovered that they can easily run their counterfeiting activity on the Internet. Indeed, criminals prefer to sell counterfeits on the Internet for many reasons:
They can hide behind the anonymity of the Internet (on the Dark Web even their internet protocol addresses can be hidden). This clandestine environment makes it difficult for brand owners to determine who is counterfeiting their goods.
The Internet gives them the reach to sell to consumers globally, outside of the national limits of law enforcement. This international, borderless reach forces brand owners to prosecute cases in multiple jurisdictions.
Counterfeiters can display genuine goods on their site and ship counterfeit goods to the consumer. This makes it difficult for brand owners to determine whether a website is selling counterfeits unless they make purchases from the site to find out.
When one site is shut down, another one can quickly be opened, making it a struggle for brand owners to stop a counterfeiter.
Criminal networks use complex server systems, which allow for hundreds of websites to sell the same products while making it difficult for law enforcement to track the counterfeiters.
These tactics have led to a proliferation of online counterfeiting, giving brand owners and governments the arduous task of finding and shutting down the counterfeiting rings. While the link between the increased sales of counterfeits on the Internet and the harm caused to businesses, governments and the public is certain, the solution is complex and challenging. As a result, how to address the sale of counterfeits on the Internet has become a hotly debated topic within industry and among policymakers. Who is responsible for addressing the problem? What legal, policy and voluntary measures should be put in place?